a note from a gardener

Gardening is a process with a definite learning curve.  A lot of us are fairly experienced gardeners, and a lot of us are new to gardening. And others are somewhere in the middle.

As someone who is more experienced now as a gardener, I will tell you that I got more experienced because I did homework on my own. Sure I consult with people on occasion, but evolving as a gardener also comes from inside me based on the work I have done, research with gardening books, visiting gardens, even looking at annual plant catalogs to see how they are staging things. My evolution as a gardener was not instaneous, it took years….and many gardens, each with its own personality,

In order to garden you need to do a lot of trial and error on your own. In other words, what works in your space and what works for you and what doesn’t. I used to get really upset when I lost a plant, and now I have gotten more practical and slightly zen over the years and figure if it wasn’t meant to be it just wasn’t meant to be and I either try again or I look for another kind of plant.

It is totally cool to crowd source plants you don’t remember the names of – or things you think are weeds – for example I am going to reach out to friends to help me identify a perennial I planted a couple of years ago that didn’t do much of anything until this summer, and now I can’t remember what it is I planted.

It’s also totally cool to crowd source design ideas and planting ideas for your garden. But I have to caution the new gardeners to the fact that this is YOUR garden, so a lot of what we like isn’t necessarily going to be what YOU like. What is your personal vision for your garden space? If you can envision it, you can plant it.

My own garden as I have written before is a combination of things. It has pieces of every garden I have had growing up and as an adult. It also contains pieces of other gardens I have admired over the  years. I like a cacophony of color, but the color has to be complementary so there is a method to my madness.  Some of my favorite gardens in the world are English and Irish cottage gardens, so that inspires me as well. And layered gardens. 

Yes my garden is a lot of work, but it brings me so much pleasure and is a happy place. Most gardeners actually feel that way – no matter how large or how small your garden is it is your happy place because you created it.

Part of what makes a good garden is your own personality – your own sense of individuality. As a rabid gardener I encourage all of you to remember that.

I also encourage all of you to go out and visit gardens -Chanticleer in Wayne, Winterthur, Morris Arboretum, Jenkins Arboretum, Tyler Arboretum, Natural Lands properties, and all of the fabulous gardens wherever you live if you are not from the greater Philadelphia area.

Supprt the nonprofits that create and sustain the beauty of nature. Also check out flower shows large and small and if you like certain kinds of plants over others, there are many societies that are plant specific.

Open your senses, your mind, and your heart, and your eyes to the beauty that is created around you and you will find your perfect garden for you.

Happy gardening!

sometimes you have to slow down and smell the flowers…and help a turtle cross the road

I read this quote today on a friend’s Facebook timeline:

“This is what Christianity is about. Whether it’s ethics, our understanding of God, our thoughts about the future, or the central image of the Christian story—it’s all love, from first to last. Every bit of it is an attempt to explain, demonstrate, or extrapolate on love.”

 

It was shared along with this blog post : by Micha Redding “Christianity is Love”  

So simple, yet so powerful.  The post also contained this:

Love your neighbor as yourself’. Love does no harm to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

Yet we seem to live in a country that seems so blood thirsty today for lack of a better description.  Some people absolutely can’t feel good about themselves unless they are trying to beat someone else down. They seem to think they find their power by hurting others.  Do they? Or does that just make them sad and mean?

I saw these quote after I was thinking about this post, which is about most simply put sometimes you have to slow down and smell the flowers…and help a turtle cross the road.

Seriously.

This morning I was enjoying the simple majesty of a cool, slightly damp morning, my song birds and my flowers, when I saw something in the road.

Yes it is a turtle.  As I later found out, a snapping turtle.  I gave it wide berth and walked behind it like a shepherd until it crossed the road.

And the marvelous thing about the snapping turtle that did not snap? It got people outside for a few minutes, away from the minutia of daily life to see a creature we do not often get a glimpse at.

It was nice.  It was one of life’s little interludes. Maybe the universe is telling us all something?

when gardening, know your mail order grower


The photo above (and the next photo below this paragraph) were both  taken on a garden tour last spring. I love hostas! I really generally speaking have a hosta disease! I am always looking for interesting cultivars and growers who might have hostas I want to try but never have been able to find locally.


But I learned a valuable lesson recently about knowing your grower. And knowing your grower especially when it comes to mail order plants.

I have been ordering plants from reputable growers up and down the eastern seaboard and as far away as Washington state for years.

I was searching out particular hosta cultivars and decided to check eBay.  Believe it or not I have had wonderful luck with some small plant growers on eBay in the past. For example, I received wonderful woodland ferns from a small nursery outfit in Tennessee.

So there is this grower who is a dually listed on eBay and Amazon. I figured since they were on two sites that generally try to police their sellers I was OK ordering plants. I didn’t stop to pay attention to the reviews. I should have. If I had paid attention to the reviews I would’ve saved myself a lot of trouble.

I ordered the plants and then I waited. And waited. When I received no tracking number to track my package from the seller after over a week I messaged the grower to ask if the plants had shipped and if I could have a tracking number.

I also at that time asked if I was getting bare root or if they were coming in pots. The seller said they always ship bare root.

I am not a novice gardener and I am fine with bare root plants. I figured all would be fine.

Boy was I mistaken.

The plants arrived Saturday. Poorly packaged in a small square box, they arrived mostly dead. I literally had thrown my money away.

For all of the plants I have ordered over the years mail order, never had I received any in such poor condition. And what was described as a “starter” plant (for example) looked like a piece of wilted micro lettuce.

The plants were shipped in dry newspaper in little sandwich baggies with the hosta cultivars scribbled illegibly on the outside of the baggies. There was no ventilation in the little square box and the plants were dried out, wilted, and mostly dead. And so small. I am used to mail order plants but these were puny, so not as described in my humble opinion.

I took a deep breath and contacted the “grower” to see what they would do. I gave them the opportunity to do the right thing. I wanted healthy plants, not a refund. And I was not seeking free plants. I would have been satisfied with an “I am so sorry.” Or even an intelligent conversation in the hopes of achieving an amicable resolution. After all, who likes wasting money?

The response from the “grower” was swift and nasty to be honest.  They accused me of “blackmail” and demanded (not requested) I mail back “their” plants (even though I had paid $70+ for “their” plants.

I will be honest, I was taken aback by the sheer nastiness of their attitude, and I said calmly that I was not going to put myself out MORE money to mail back sub par mostly dead plants.  

I have learned a valuable lesson. And if I had read the reviews posted online I probably would not have purchased a thing from them. If they need my hard earned money so badly, hey they can keep it.

Know your grower. And if you do not, check them out. (And yes, another case made for buying local.)


On a certain level I am disappointed, because people who are true nursery men and women are generally speaking some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Do not be afraid of ordering plants via mail order, just check out the grower ahead of time. Again, lesson learned for me. I broke my rule of checking them out.

Good customer service matters.  

vintage gardening books

Like the late Suzy Bales, another garden writer Chester County native garden writer David Culp inspires. 

Suzy Bales inspired me to truly make my current garden one of four seasons and to plant gardens around our home on all four sides. (I still consider it a work in progress, but it’s getting there.) The books she wrote titled Down to Earth Gardener and The Garden in Winter have truly guided me in my current garden to that end.  They are lovely books that you can find quite reasonably priced new and used on Amazon.com.  Mrs. Bales sadly passed away a year ago this time, but you can still benefit from her knowledge through her books.

David Culp is the author of The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage.  You can also find his book easily on Amazon.com. He is the one that made me see the beauty of layering your garden.  It is something that I have always sort of fidfled with, but his book took it to a whole new level.  

I love my gardening books as much as my cookbooks.

I have been collecting vintage gardening books since I was about 19. They are well loved and well used and much like my cookbooks, I do not lend them out. I totally encourage people to look for vintage gardening books, much like vintage cookbooks they often contain basic, time honored traditions that can get lost in translation in the Internet age.

Long before there was the Internet, Facebook, or Pinterest you relied on your own research. You poured through gardening books, you went on garden tours, you belonged to a local gardening club.

I have always been a rabid gardener, and I love to learn about gardens.  I discovered years ago quite by accident but every time you went to a garage sale or a rummage sale or thrift shop a lot of the books that people got rid of were gardening books and cookbooks.  And many of both kinds of books were as pretty to look at as they were practical for the information contained within them.

To an extent while I am a modern woman I am also an old fashioned woman. I love what people used to call the “home arts” – or making your house a home , creating your garden, decorating your home yourself, and cooking.

Some of the gardening books I have are quite old. And a lot of the ones I have are books of actual gardens, a lot of which no longer exist due to development and progress. Families die off, properties are sold.  It is a sad fact of life. Not every person moving into a house wants to garden. And sometimes depending on where something is located, the property and the gardens don’t survive. Often whomever acquires the property will give people permission to take plants, or buy them from them.

That’s how I ended up with really old hellebores years ago.  

There were a pair of old Victorian houses near the Rosemont, PA train station which had been run down apartments for years and years and finally when they were totally decrepit they were sold to a developer. I contacted the developer before they razed the houses for their condominium project.  For years in spite of watching these two once very cool Victorians deteriorate, I was fascinated by these lovely hellebores that I have never seen anyplace else to this day.  The developer let me take a bucketful of the hellebores. And although the gardens were quite overgrown by this point there were still some remnants of the design left and that was also valuable to check out and commit to my memory for future gardens.

I still look at the photos of these gardens in my books, captured and frozen in time, and the majority of the photos are black and white. They also inspire me.  The gardens of yesterday that only live in photos inside an old book.

These gardens that live only in photos of old books can so spark the imagination if you let them. They are to me as valuable as some people find the photos of gardens on Pinterest today.

Gardening is truly an art form. And how your garden looks is entirely personal. You literally get out of your garden what you put into it and as long as your garden make you happy that is what is important.

Look for garden books you like new and old and let them inspire you in your garden.  Good sources for gardening books, and even cookbooks are (again) locally at a garage or rummage sale, at a resale shop or used bookstore. If you want to go online, check out both Amazon and eBay.  Locally, I have also found many fabulous gardening books at Jenkins Arboretum.

I also love book swaps – if you are finished with the book swap it to a friend for another book.  A gardening book swap is also a great excuse for gardeners to get together!

Happy gardening!

the “art” of gardening

I have a gardening group that’s growing by leaps and bounds. Which makes me happy because I love to garden, and love looking at the gardens of others, and talking about gardens. 

I do not pretend to know everything. I am constantly learning. I think gardening is good for the soul and head in part because if you garden, you are always learning.

I have beds on all four sides of our house. The philosophy is simple: I want flowers everywhere. I am going for four seasons of interest and the late Suzy Bales (who was amazing gardener and garden writer who sadly passed away last spring) inspired me to that. She is not the only gardener or garden writer who has inspired me over te years, but she will always be one of my favorites because what she wrote about speaks to me still.

My current garden is pieces of every garden I have ever had, combined with elements I have admired in other gardens. I draw a lot of inspiration from English and Irish cottage gardens, truthfully.

With a few exceptions I have planted it all myself. Except for things I physically can’t do, I maintain my garden myself. Gardening makes me happy.

You get out of your garden what you put into it. A good garden is the result of trial and error, and what defines a good garden is simple: it makes YOU happy.

For me personally, given the knee injury I have been dealing with for several weeks at this point, this will be the year that tests my garden. But the up shot is I have done basically the majority of the planting, so maintenance will be the key. And hopefully I can find help for that until I am healed.

When you are putting your own garden together, it’s kind of like decorating your house – you draw inspiration from lots of places. Make a garden inspiration board on Pinterest- Pinterest is loaded with gardening stuff! I actually love using Pinterest for garden related things – it is so easy to create a virtual cork board of ideas.

In part that is why I created a gardening group and write about gardening is I believe gardeners inspire each other. And somewhere along the way when you least expect it, you develop your own gardening style.

My gardening style includes garden elements – bird baths, a stone path to dress up a hard to make look pretty area, seating areas, and so on. I also love the idea of creating “nooks”.

I love color and texture and how plants “fit” together. I love that you can plant almost anything in a pot, so it is not just about the garden beds. I love the smells and sounds of the garden and how nature rewards you when you plant.

Gardening is art, and trust me everyone has it in them to create their own artistic oasis. 

Happy gardening.